Migraine: Not Just Another Headache

It’s a good time to be alive for migraine sufferers. Obviously, being migraine free is ideal, but today there are many more options for migraine treatment than even five years ago – and more innovations are on the way. Migraineurs have a greater chance to escape or even prevent the debilitating pain that comes with this monster-like neurological condition that can evoke vision disturbances, heightened sensitive to light, noise, and odor, mood changes, and nausea. Some people are rendered helpless for several days by a migraine, and a darkened room is the only environment they can tolerate.

But there really is more hope than ever before.

Clinical trials on new medications being developed, new medications soon to be released, and neuromodulation devices currently on the market are all exciting. Major pharmaceutical companies, including Lily, Amgen, Teva, and Alder are all working in tandem to produce new medications. One such medication is an IV formulation to be administered at hospitals. Though the inconvenience of a hospital trip is difficult, the pain relief is more than worth it for some patients. New personal injectables that do not require a doctor’s administration are also in development.

Neuromodulation, the process of regulating brain activity by controlling neurotransmitter levels, moves beyond medication and therefore most appealing for some people. The technique is controversial and the jury still out regarding their worth, but so far they are quite helpful to some. Neuromodulation devices address nerves in the head, neck, and other body parts through electrical impulses and magnets rather than harsh chemicals with sometimes difficult side effects. The trigeminal, vagus, and occipital nerves, which are all affected by migraine, can be targeted with such a device. Though the treatment is controversial and studies are yet inconclusive, such an approach is idea for those who cannot tolerate medication. Some treatment is better than none in some experts’ opinion. Perhaps, for example, there could be a placebo effect, even if the device itself was not fully effective. There is no downside to trying the treatment.

A specific type of neuromodulation device called a vagus nerve stimulator (VNS) has been shown to help epilepsy patients suffer fewer seizures. And migraine patients who have used the device for three months have also suffered fewer migraines. It is held on the right side of the neck. Many migraine patients enjoy having the freedom to avoid medication and take charge of their treatment with their own hands. The device is still in development for treating migraine, however, despite being available in Australia and Europe.

A huge drawback to VNS and other such devices is their cost. They are not inexpensive, which is at times a hindrance for those who need them most. But for those who have the means, they have been a huge asset.

Few doctors beyond neurologists adequately understand the complexity of migraine. It’s said that only a few hours of medical school are devoted to studying the disorder. One of The American Headache Society’s goals is to increase the focus on the illness and give medical residents more education in and experience with treatments.

Migraine is the sixth-leading cause of disability worldwide, not only in the United States. That is a staggering truth. Twenty-five percent of women ages 30 to 39 and 6 percent of men suffer migraine. Finding good treatment, and maybe even a cure for this illness, is crucial. Especially since migraine affects not only its sufferers, but virtually everyone they are connected to as well.

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